Pocock Racing Shells was founded in Seattle, Washington in 1911 and has been an integral part of nearly 100 years of American rowing. The roots of the company, however, began in England – the birthplace of shell building and racing – back in the 1800’s.
George Pocock grew up in England, where his father was the head boat builder for prestigious Eton College at Windsor around the turn of the century. As a young man, George raced single shells on the famed Thames River. At one of these races he won £50, and with the money purchased passage for himself and his brother, Dick, on a cattle boat bound for Canada. In 1911, on George’s 20th birthday, they arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, with $20 in their pockets and a dream of building fine racing boats. They rented the Vancouver Rowing Club’s boathouse, without moorage, and found that at low tide they rested precariously on the mud flats. During the ensuing year, they nearly starved.
Help arrived in the midst of a winter gale when Hiram Conibear, then coach of the University of Washington racing crew, rowed out to the boathouse and coaxed both the brothers into coming to Seattle to build boats for the university. Ecstatic, they cabled their father to join them and left for Seattle. Their dream faded quickly, however, when the university ordered only one eight-man shell and gave them a shop that was an old lakeside tea room, bereft of any heat or lights.
By 1916 they were again in despair when a distinguished-looking man walked into their shop and, after examining their work, left his business card. Within a few days they were building float plane pontoons for William E. Boeing’s new airplane company. George eventually became foreman of the assembly department, dick became boat-builder for Yale University, and their father returned to England.
In 1922 an new University of Washington coach planted a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the sports page that George had agreed to return to the University. It was just the prodding that George needed to return to his real love, boat-building. In the following year, 1923, the unknown Washington rowing team when east and won the national championship in a Pocock boat. Thus began the legend of Pocock Racing Shells.
For the next 50 years George, with care and grace, built racing shells for nearly every racing college in the country and several abroad. His reputation spread as he strove to maintain the highest possible quality at a price that even small colleges or high schools could afford. His boats went on to win many national and Olympic championships.
Upon George’s death in 1976, the Lake Union-based company was taken over by his son, Stan.
Stan grew up in Seattle, was an oarsman at the University of Washington and graduated with a degree in Engineering. Following college and carrying on the family tradition, he apprenticed with his father. In the late 1960’s, management of the company became Stan’s responsibility while George devoted himself to constructing cedar single shells.
Stan was to prove himself not only as a natural in boat building, but also in coaching. Stanley was the freshman coach at the University of Washington from 1947-1955, he was the first coach for Lake Washington Rowing Club upon its formation in 1958, and coached gold medal winning crews in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.
“Rowing isn’t easy,” Stan said about the sport, “It’s so much a matter of heart. The oarsman must be sold on what he’s doing and so enthusiastic about it that the hurt doesn’t matter. Technique and conditioning are things that every oarsman has… so they become relatively unimportant. We know that men respond to rowing in a beautiful piece of equipment, and we try to give them shells that will raise their spirit a little above their competitors’.”
The post war years were a time of incredible innovation in materials science, and it was Stan who carried the company into the modern age of composites. In fact, it was only when his father was away at the 1956 Olympics in Australia that he was first able to experiment with fiberglass. He replaced the wood ribs with a fiberglass sandwich skin, which was an extraordinary innovation for 1956. In 1961 Stan made the first fiberglass rowing boat ever – a wherry. A few years later he developed the fiberglass training single.
Stan was the first in many areas, including the development of a successful wood and glass laminated composite oar, molded seat tops, and adjustable oarlock height spacers. Building off innovations in composite engineering from aerospace industries, Stan developed the first line of all carbon fiber monocoque racing shells in 1981. Developing the shoulderless boat was his crowing achievement.
In 2014, Stan Pocock passed away at the age of 91.
Bill Tytus took over the helm of Pocock Racing Shells in 1985.
His introduction to the sport came as a young boy riding his bicycle past the Pocock Shop, which was down the road from his house. Intrigued by the sights and sounds of what he could see from the outside, the desire to pop his head inside was irresistible. After that fateful day, Bill became a frequent visitor to the shop, and subsequently forged a lifelong friendship with the Pocock family.
Bill first picked up an oar in 1964 with Green Lake Crew in Seattle. His rowing career included a second place finish in the Diamond Sculls event at Henley in 1969, and he represented the USA on the National Team from 1969-1971. Today, he continues to coach sculling for the Lake Washington Rowing Club.
Bill is singularly focused on making the best boats on the market. “What many people don’t understand,” he says, “is that it is a long process. The design and construction of racing shells is continually refined throughout many years of experience, and all of these threads come together to make better products.”
“Boat building is also very sport-specific. The design and engineering that goes into making a fast sailing boat simply does not necessarily apply to racing shells’
With fifty years in the sport of rowing and over thirty years designing boats, Bill continues down the path of constant refinement, seeking the optimum balance between the various constraints and conflicting elements of boat design. This progression has been successful. The proven design of his Hypercarbon K4 and V8 designs have consistently the top choice for America’s fastest crews. The newest iteration of this ongoing process is the revolutionary xVIII, which was released in 2016.
Today Bill runs the company with his son, John, and while he is backing out of the day to day operations, he remains an active advisor on all aspects of the company and continues to design all of the boats.
Under Bill’s leadership Pocock products and reputation continue to thrive. Pocock is an undisputed industry leader, known for excellence and unmatched customer service.